Ingram v. Ingram, 211 Conn. App. 484 (2022) (post-judgment relocation)
Officially released March 29, 2022
In Short: The trial court permitted Wife to relocate, post-judgment, from Brookfield to Poughkeepsie, New York to live with her fiancé. Husband failed to persuade the Appellate Court that the trial court abused its discretion or made clearly erroneous findings of fact as there was enough evidence to uphold the trial court’s decision.
The parties were married in 2012 and had one child in 2013. They were divorced by separation agreement in 2017, providing joint legal custody and that the child would reside primarily with Wife. The separation agreement was silent as to any relocation. It provided a visitation schedule with Wife from Monday-Thursday and Husband Thursday-Sunday, subject to modification by agreement, with shared access and alternating holidays. Wife had an older child, age sixteen at the time of the decision that is the subject of this appeal, with whom the child had a close relationship. Wife lived in Brookfield and Husband lived in Bethel.
In February of 2020, Wife filed a motion seeking relocation on the basis that she was engaged and moving to Poughkeepsie, New York. She requested that the child’s school district be based on her new residence that the child be with her from Sunday evening to Friday and alternating weekends. A hearing was scheduled for March of 2020 but was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In April, Wife moved to Poughkeepsie.
In August, Husband filed an application for an emergency ex parte order seeking temporary primary residence and filed a motion for modification seeking the same. The trial court entered emergency orders that the child be registered for school in Bethel, with orders as to the schedule depending on whether school was in session, remote or hybrid. In October, the trial court held a hearing as to both parties’ motions for modification. Both parties testified, as did Wife’s fiancé and Husband’s father.
The trial court issued a memorandum of decision. The trial court found that Wife was employed as an emergency room technician at Danbury Hospital and taking undergraduate courses toward a degree in nursing, possessing a flexible schedule. In 2019 she became engaged to her fiancé, who is a firefighter in Poughkeepsie and owns a home there. Husband worked full-time at Costco in Norwalk, had been living in his father’s house in Bethel, and had recently purchased a home in Bethel where he planned to live with his girlfriend.
The trial court set forth the Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-56d standard regarding post-judgment relocation:
(a) In any proceeding before the Superior Court arising after the entry of a judgment awarding custody of a minor child and involving the relocation of either parent with the child, where such relocation would have a significant impact on an existing parenting plan, the relocating parent shall bear the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that (1) the relocation is for a legitimate purpose, (2) the proposed location is reasonable in light of such purpose, and (3) the relocation is in the best interests of the child.
(b) In determining whether to approve the relocation of the child under subsection (a) of this section, the court shall consider, but such consideration shall not be limited to: (1) Each parent’s reasons for seeking or opposing the relocation; (2) the quality of the relationships between the child and each parent; (3) the impact of the relocation on the quantity and the quality of the child’s future contact with the nonrelocating parent; (4) the degree to which the relocating parent’s and the child’s life may be enhanced economically, emotionally and educationally by the relocation; and (5) the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements.
The trial court found that Wife’s relocation was for a legitimate purpose, the proposed location was reasonable in light of that purpose, and that the child’s life will be enhanced by the move. The trial court found that Wife had been the child’s primary caregiver for most of his life and had a more active role. The trial court permitted the relocation, provided Wife with primary residence, and entered a schedule whereby Husband had three weekends per month from Fridays to Sundays (and long weekends into Mondays). They would alternate holidays and school vacations with each having four weeks per summer. Husband appealed.
Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court erred by failing to consider the parties’ informal agreement for alternating weekly parenting time for several months leading up to the hearing, arguing that the trial court’s findings regarding continuity ignored the fact that the parties were sharing parenting at the time of the hearing. The Appellate Court disagreed, noting that the trial court entered an ex parte order to that effect less than two months prior to the hearing and hear extensive testimony from both parties as to the parenting schedule in that time frame.
Husband argued that the trial court’s determination that Wife had a more active role in the child’s life had no reasonable basis in fact at the time of the hearing. The Appellate Court determined the trial court’s findings were not clearly erroneous. There had been testimony regarding Wife’s involvement in everything from doctor’s appointments to haircuts and Husband’s testimony included acknowledgment that parent-teacher conferences occurred while he was working.
Husband argued that the trial court’s decision inappropriately ratified Wife’s unauthorized relocation. The Appellate Court found no evidence to support the claim that the trial court prejudged the motion.
Lastly Husband argued that the trial court failed to consider the education component of § 46b-56d(b). The Appellate Court disagreed, noting testimony regarding the child’s intended schooling. The Appellate Court simply refused to re-weigh the evidence.
The Judgment was affirmed.